By David M. Greenwald
Woodland, CA – In 2009 a family invited me to their home in Citrus Heights and explained that their relative had just been convicted of 76 counts of sexually assaulting his adopted daughter, they believed him to be innocent and he was about to be sentenced to Yolo County.
This was my introduction to Ajay Dev and his case presented me with wrongful convictions, a ridiculous sentence of 378 years, and eventually became the launching point for court oversight.
The idea of court oversight was to shed a more critical light on the justice system than what was portrayed in the mainstream media – part of it presented another side of the story from the pro-prosecution, pro- law enforcement that has long dominated the news.
On Friday, I published a column that argued in part that the mainstream media treats progressive prosecutors very differently from how they treat conservative prosecutors. When crime increases under the watch of Chesa Boudin, George Gascon or Larry Krasner, for example, they are held to a different standard than when it increases for more conservative prosecutors.
Progressive DAs have been criticized even though crime and murders are skyrocketing under conservative DAs just as much – if not more so.
One reader wrote, “A common theme lately is that reform-minded prosecutors aren’t being treated fairly by the press.
“An honest question for the Vanguard,” he asked. “Does the Vanguard feel they have treated DA Reisig fairly with their coverage?”
It’s an interesting question – although ultimately I think the wrong question.
The point I have made here is that the mainstream media—whose job it is to provide balanced and accurate reporting—held reform prosecutors to a fundamentally different standard than conservative prosecutors.
In doing so, it presupposes that the tried-and-failed measures of conservative prosecutors are largely not responsible for the increase in crime, while the reforms have led to an increase in crime – although empirically it is difficult to argue this point.
Our work is somewhat different. The pro-mainstream prosecutor narrative dominates in the mainstream media.
A perfect example is the coverage that Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig received from the mainstream press.
For example, the LA Times published a positive article a few months ago about Reisig and the release of Renwick Drake. A few weeks earlier, there was an equally glowing article about the case in the Sacramento Bee.
“I’m not an ideologue,” Reisig said in an interview with the Sacramento Bee. “I am not in the same category as diehard progressives who seek to fundamentally destroy the system and rebuild it. I see our job as more about threading the needle of criminal justice reform and public safety at the same time.
Still, we have local publications like Sacramento Bee and Davis Enterprise continuing to praise the Yolo DA. They seem to agree with the prosecutor’s point of view: “What Reisig and Chief Assistant District Attorney Jonathan Raven are doing in Yolo County is more than just offering an innovative approach to prosecution. . They chart a sensible path to contemporary criminal justice and lasting change.
They add, “Their work contrasts with that of well-known progressives such as San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin and Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón. It’s a model that traditionalists like Anne Marie Schubert of Sacramento can and should emulate.
That’s typical of the coverage Reisig has received in recent months in mainstream media.
Our job: to tell the rest of the story.
It’s great, for example, that Renwick Drake was finally released from prison, but you may wonder if he should have been in prison in the first place, rather than in a juvenile facility, and certainly not for more than a decade.
Reisig charged a 15-year-old with an intellectual disability for a crime as an adult when he was not the main person, not the main actor, and was at most following the example of a child older by whom he was strongly influenced.
In fact, he overcharged the case as attempted murder, which even the jury dismissed with his acquittal.
It’s not that my view of the case is necessarily right, and Reisig’s view is wrong, but rather that my view of the case was never really said nor in the Bee nor in the LA Times. Certainly not in the Davis Enterprise.
For the past five years, you’ve asked Bee and Enterprise to endorse Reisig’s re-election and continue to name him the state’s most progressive prosecutor and ignore all evidence to the contrary that suggests he doesn’t. ‘is not.
Our goal is to tell the rest of the story. That story is that Yolo County District Attorney Jeff Reisig has done a masterful job of calling himself a moderate reformer, but his record isn’t as clean as some make it out to be.
Earlier this year, it was Jeff Reisig who joined Schubert and 27 other elected prosecutors in once again blocking modest criminal justice reform — a new credit reckoning designed to reduce second-strike penalties.
District Attorney Jeff Reisig said, “Violent crime has been steadily increasing across most of California. Promoting more early releases of inmates who have been convicted of heinous crimes or who have violent histories, without any confirmation of rehabilitation, does not make anyone safer.
Meanwhile, in December, the Penal Code Review Commission completed its biennial report and recommended the repeal of the three strikes law.
The group said in its report, “The Three Strikes Law has been applied inconsistently and disproportionately against people of color, and the crime prevention effects the law was intended to achieve have not been realized.”
Nowhere has this been truer than in Sacramento and Yolo counties.
This report found that Yolo County ranked sixth in the state in terms of the number of people convicted, either as the second or third strike. Sacramento was right behind Yolo at 8th on the list.
Has this been reported in the mainstream media? Of course not.
Ultimately, our job – at least as I see it – is to provide that counterbalance that the mainstream media lacked vis-à-vis people like DA Reisig.
While my criticism of the mainstream media is their failure to balance their coverage of DAs like Jeff Reisig even as they hold DAs like Chesa Boudin, Larry Krasner and many others on a very different level.